Vernon's Story

Finding Help for Trigeminal Neuralgia

Vernon H. - My Trigeminal Neuralgia patient storyWhen I had the first pain in my face, it was so intense I thought I was having a stroke. I reached for some towels in the closet, and it hit me like a lightning bolt. I knew something was wrong.

After that, the pain felt like a toothache. That’s what I thought it was, so I went to a dentist. Eventually, an oral surgeon said I might have trigeminal neuralgia and referred me to a neurologist. A MRI showed some lesions on my brain. Because 15 or 20 percent of people with trigeminal neuralgia have multiple sclerosis, I was put on MS medications. For the facial pain, I had two rhizotomies.

After two years, the pain medications no longer gave me relief. The cycles of pain, which I battled for 12 years before Dr. Burchiel treated me, lasted a few days to two weeks. Anything could set the pain off: laughing, chewing or talking. It was hard to sleep, and between the pain and lack of sleep, I was really getting down.

We found Dr. Burchiel through a friend at church who also had severe facial pain. She had gone to Swedish Hospital in Seattle and was referred to him at OHSU. Dr. Burchiel found a nerve and blood vessel touching each other and did a microvascular decompression. This helped the most intense pain, but I wasn’t able to get off the medication.
We saw Dr. Burchiel again, and he performed a neurolysis. When I left the hospital, I didn’t take any of the medicine they gave me for the surgical pain. After two weeks at home, I was advised on how to cut down on routine pain medication. Since the day after surgery, I’ve been pain-free and am now medication-free!

Dr. Burchiel and my neurologist don’t believe I have MS, since facial pain was my only symptom and it’s been stopped by these successful surgeries. I am so very thankful. My quality of life has greatly improved. Right now, I’m helping my son build a fireplace and am looking forward to a 50th class reunion this summer.

From our first contact with OHSU to the moment I was discharged from the hospital, the care was outstanding. My wife Carolyn, who makes all the arrangements, wants the world to know how special OHSU is. Even after your treatment is finished, they make you feel the door is always open.

When I first met Dr. Burchiel, I was pretty worn down by the pain and medications. We told him we would have gone to the moon for help, if necessary. He smiled and said we didn’t need to go to the moon, just to OHSU. No one with this condition should give up hope. I found help, and they can, too.